Good news to fossil fuel companies. Bad news to advocates of the environment.
The agency tasked to provide regulation and environmental protection on Thursday scrapped the order that requires oil and gas operators to report on their equipment and level of methane emissions.
The order, issued in May 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency, was one of the major actions of the Obama administration to combat climate change and protect public health in line with its goal to cut methane emissions to as high as 40 to 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels.
"Today, we are underscoring the [Obama] administration's commitment to finding commonsense ways to cut methane," former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said when the order was issued last year. Methane, a known pollutant, is a greenhouse gas 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The new EPA administrator, however, has a different take.
First Action In Office
Scott Pruitt, the newly sworn-in administrator, in scrapping the rule, said the agency is "signalling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states."
Pruitt was referring to a letter from the attorneys-general of 11 states dated March 1 when he talked of "concerns" and "partnership with the states."
The letter asked the EPA chief to "suspend and withdraw" the reporting rule.
"Today's action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry," he announced.
The decision to scrap the order once again highlights Pruitt's deep ties with fossil fuel industry leaders when he was Oklahoma's attorney general. It was his first order since his ascent to office.
The move also happened just days after the White House proposed to reduce by at least 20 percent EPA's budget. With decreased funding, the agency is set to trim down the number of employees by a quarter.
First Step To Undo Obama's EPA
The decision was not received well by environment advocates who maintained that the decision is a message for "oil and gas companies to go ahead and withhold vital pollution data from the American public."
With the withdrawal of the order, Mark Brownstein, vice president of climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, lamented, "it's a complete lack of transparency".
The Thursday decision is perceived as the first step to undo the Obama administration's actions to regulate pollutants from fossil fuel companies. In Congress, a move is underway through the Congressional Review Act to do away with some regulations that will restrict methane emissions among oil and gas companies.
Welcomed By The Industry Officials But
Oil and gas sector officials have applauded the action, saying the order resulted in "added unnecessary burdens."
"The exercise imposed significant costs on companies," Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said.
The recent EPA decision, however, could result in more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere in the absence of environmental tracking.